The successful launch marked the latest foray into space propelled by SpaceX, the private aerospace firm founded by Tesla CEO Elon Musk. The project is a collaboration between Nasa, the American space agency, and the German Research Centre for Geosciences.
A Falcon 9 rocket designed by SpaceX carried the GRACE-FO satellites from a launchpad at California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base.
Now that they have exited the earth’s atmosphere, the satellites will monitor how water flows around the globe over the course of five years.
By gauging a number of factors in the water cycle, from fluctuations in ice sheets and glaciers to ocean currents, the satellites will seek to understand broader shifts in the planet’s climate.
“Our philosophy on Mars has been to follow the water, and that has relevance right here on earth as well”, Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a video statement, adding the new data “will provide unique insights into earth’s changing climate, and it will have far-reaching benefits to society such as improving water resource management”.
Research derived from a previous satellite observations has revealed that wet areas are getting wetter and dry areas are getting drier, trends that are driven in part by climate change and human water management.
“What we are witnessing is major hydrologic change,” Jay Famiglietti of Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a blog post describing the research.
In addition to the GRACE-FO satellites, the launch carried into low-earth orbit five Iridium NEXT satellites that are intended to build a satellite communications network.
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